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Ohio prep hoops: Axelrod, Saunders and Vargo pace Coffman over Liberty

A hot start from Dublin Coffman guard Nate Axelrod helped the Rocks sustain an early lead to control a hard-fought slugfest vs. division rival Olentangy Liberty. Coffman's 50-43 win puts the Rocks alone at the top of the OCC-Central.

Sophomore wing Luke Vargo added 10 key points in Wednesday's win vs. Olentangy Liberty
Sophomore wing Luke Vargo added 10 key points in Wednesday's win vs. Olentangy Liberty

Exactly 11 months ago, Nate Axelrod and the Dublin Coffman Shamrocks scored just two points in a demoralizing fourth quarter vs. Olentangy Liberty that would propel the Patriots to a division-title clinching victory on the Rocks home floor. With a bad taste lingering in the mouths of the returning Coffman contributors, the Rocks made sure to not let history repeat itself in a 50-43 home win vs. those same Patriots on Wednesday.

Jumping out to a 17-3 lead through the game's first ten and a half minutes, Axelrod and Coffman secured an early lead that would pay dividends late. As Axelrod got things going from deep early on, Coffman's lone senior scored 11 points in a first half that was completely controlled by the Rocks. Leading 27-14 at the break, Coffman looked to be in complete control of a game with major implications.

As both squads came into Wednesday's contest undefeated in OCC-Central play, a victory would secure sole possession of first place in the division. As Coffman cruised into halftime with a 13-point lead, a 12-0 run by Liberty to begin the third was just what the Patriots needed to get back into the game. Senior Liberty forward Zach Nice scored 10 of his 11 points in the third, excelling from the right block. However, as close as Liberty inched to Coffman's lead, the Rocks would not be denied in an up-tempo second half.

With major production from junior point guard CJ Saunders, Coffman regained control of momentum in the second half to close out the Patriots 17-15 in the final frame. Saunders' six points, seven rebounds (a game-high for the 5'10 guard), four assists and three steals were the type of production that Coffman lacked in last year's gut-wrenching loss to Liberty.

Sophomore wing Luke Vargo added 10 points and six rebounds, no points bigger than the key triple the 6'7 forward hit to put Coffman ahead 42-33 with 3:35 remaining. Coffman would knock down key free-throws in the final minutes to close out the Patriots, 50-43.

Ohio Dominican commit and Liberty senior forward Mike DeLeon had a difficult matchup with the 6'7 Vargo, as the senior was held to just seven points and five rebounds. Nice's 11 points were a game-high for Liberty, who received inconsistent production from the supporting cast.

For Coffman, the win pushes the Rocks to 9-0 on the season, including a perfect 5-0 record in league play. The Rocks also received a big lift from junior forward Noah Vollmer, who added six points and two major offensive rebounds in the second half.

With the loss, Liberty falls into a three-way tie for second place in the OCC-Central with Upper Arlington and Thomas Worthington. The Patriots will have to wait until Feb. 7 to get revenge vs. a Coffman team that is clicking on all cylinders.

Central Ohio's Top Performers from Wednesday

With sub-zero temperatures shutting down the majority of Tuesday's basketball games, Wednesday served as a make-up day for Central Ohio hoops. Let's take a look at some of Wednesday's top performers from around the area.

Akiean Frederick (6'6 PF / Franklin Heights / 2014)

Scoring 11 of his team-high 19 points in a major fourth quarter run to overcome a three-point deficit, Frederick was the key in Franklin Heights' 48-42 home win vs. league opponent Delaware Hayes. After a 24-point, seven-rebound showing on Friday vs. Olentangy Orange, Frederick was once again Franklin Heights' top scorer, and made the difference in the victory. Improving to 7-3 (4-1), Frederick and the Falcons are undoubtedly the area's most improved team from a season ago, and the 6'6 senior forward is a major reason for it. With limited recruiting activity, Frederick would be a great addition for a Division-III/junior college program looking for a skilled big man with a soft touch around the rim. The senior also has the versatility to step out on the perimeter and hit with improving consistency.

Javon Bess (6'5  SG / Gahanna-Lincoln / 2014)

Scoring 92 points in his last three games, the Michigan State commit Bess has hit his stride in the early part of the season. Going for 30 points in a 55-43 win at home vs. Pickerington North, Bess has the Lions rolling with momentum leading up to Friday's heavily-anticipated matchup with division-rival Pickerington Central. Bess was joined in double-figures by sophomore center Nick Ward, who added 12 points of his own. Sitting at 9-1, the Lions will travel south to Pickerington to square off with a hungry Tigers squad coming off losses in two of its last three games. In their last matchup, Bess and the Lions hung on in the final minutes to end Pickerington Central's season 53-50, resulting in a district championship.

Khalil Iverson (6'5 PF / Delaware Hayes / 2015)

Despite the loss to Franklin Heights, Hayes' Iverson was arguably the top performer on the floor. Going for 22 points, 16 rebounds and two blocks, the springy junior forward was one of two Pacers in double-figures on Wednesday. After a 17-point, 16-rebound performance on Friday, Iverson followed that up with yet another double-double, showcasing just how consistent the junior has become around the basket. With great leaping-ability, improving ball skills and an aggressive nose for the ball, Iverson is becoming one of Central Ohio's top performers night after night, and showings like he had on Wednesday will only reinforce that notion.

Mason Baich (6'2 SG / Dublin Jerome / 2016)

Scoring 31 points in an 84-67 loss on the road to Westerville South, Baich continues to elevate his stock among Central Ohio's top sophomores. With impressive athleticism, and an ability to shoot from anywhere on the floor, Baich and fellow sophomore guard Seve Stavroff have formed a formidable duo for the Celtics in the back court. Dublin Jerome will need another high scoring output from Baich on Friday, as the Celtics are at home against a talented, but inconsistent Westerville Central unit.

John Pope (6'1 SG / Columbus Independence / 2014)

Scoring 28 points to lead Independence to its first win on the season, Pope was a major factor in the Sixers' 81-78 overtime victory over Marion-Franklin. One of the stronger finishers in the Columbus City-League South, Pope was joined in double-figures by sophomore guard Darnei Hairston, who added 23 points, and senior guard Malik Breckenridge, who chipped in 13 points and eight assists. On a team with obvious talent, the Sixers have underperformed up to this point in the season, but Wednesday's win vs. a talented Red Devils squad is an indication of what Independence is capable of. Independence looks to keep rolling into Friday, as a winnable matchup on the road at South awaits the Sixers.

Tyler Dunn (5'10 PG / Grove City / 2014)

Going for 25 points, Dunn led all scorers in Grove City's 83-54 home win vs. Lancaster. Hitting from deep four times, Dunn continued his hot streak from the perimeter to lead the Greyhounds to their seventh win on the season. Paired with rising junior guard Nic Bapst in the Grove City backcourt, the Greyhounds look to keep momentum high as a road matchup vs. Pickerington North awaits on Friday.

Josh Chellers (6'2 SF / Columbus Beechcroft / 2015)

On the road at East, Chellers' 17 points helped Beechcroft hand the host Tigers their first loss in Columbus City-League North play, 50-42. With the win, Beechcroft improves to 4-5 on the season, while going 2-2 in league play. An athletic specimen, Chellers is a player with a great deal of potential, and will be looked to lead the Cougars from here on out. While Beechcroft has struggled to find a consistent scorer for the majority of the season, the junior Chellers must continue to elevate his level of play to keep the Cougars in the top half of the City-League North.

Nate Jameson (6'5 F / Columbus Eastmoor Academy / 2014)

Two days before a major matchup for first place in the City-League North vs. Walnut Ridge, Jameson and Eastmoor cruised to a 69-50 home victory vs. South. Scoring a game-high 23 points, Jameson helped Eastmoor outscore the Bulldogs 46-27 in a decisive second half. At 7-3, Eastmoor heads into the much-anticipated Friday matchup at Walnut Ridge undefeated in league play. Eastmoor will need heavy contribution from its trio of 6'5 forwards in Jameson, senior Shamonty Manning and junior Khalil Wade. Finishing just one game behind in the City-League South a season ago, a win on the Scots' home floor would mean major things for a 2013-14 season with promise for the Warriors.

Teddy Metzen (6'6 PF / Newark / 2014)

In yet another nail-biting OCC-Ohio contest for Newark, Metzen's 21 points were enough for the host Wildcats to take down Reynoldsburg, 69-63 in overtime. Outscoring the Raiders 7-1 in the overtime period, Newark hit 5-of-6 free throws to put the game on ice. In addition to his game-high scoring output, Metzen also notched 16 rebounds against an undersized Raider front line. Committed to the University of Ashland, Metzen has increased his production in back-to-back division wins for Newark. Tied at the top of the OCC-Ohio with Gahanna and Pickerington Central (Newark handed each their lone division loss), the Wildcats travel to struggling Lancaster on Friday in what should be a more than winnable contest.